Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4) - ReviewJoseph Trotter , posted on 10 July 2015 / 6,694 Views
Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the best games on the last generation of consoles. In an age of open-world extravaganzas, it showed that tight, well-directed and absorbing linear gameplay still had a place in modern gaming. Arkham City ignored this lesson, and burst out from the asylum into a fully fledged open-world, armed with the mantra ‘bigger=better’.
Lacking the tight gameplay and purpose of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City impressed with its range of ideas and involving story, but posterity has not aged it well. Some of Arkham Asylum’s combat innovations transferred poorly to the big city aesthetic, while others quickly became stale when so heavily used in the sequel.
Over-use, it appears, is a temptation that Rocksteady cannot resist. Arkham Knight, the first of the series to appear on next generation consoles, is hugely impressive in many ways. Its big draw - the saliva moment - is the inclusion of the Batmobile. Huge, hulking, and monstrously fast, its inclusion from the start is hugely exciting. Should you bomb around the streets or blast away drones using the combat mode? Decisions, decisions.
One needn’t worry, however, as it is used for everything. Everything. Leap deep inside a complex, journey through tight tunnels, and you may eventually get to a dead end. What’s that? A winch-point? Better find a way to get the Batmobile there then. To begin with this isn’t a problem, as use of the Batmobile still remains novel and exciting. Battles are fun, as missiles whizz past and you try to combat overwhelming opponents with a deft game of duck and move.
Ten hours into the game and little has changed, except that you have maybe now participated in fifty of these battles. By this point the vehicular combat is cripplingly dull, and it only gets worse. You wish, beg for more imaginative alternatives to completing missions, but it generally boils down to the Batmobile. Used sparingly, the Batmobile would be a wonderful addition; distance would make the heart grow fonder due to its brutality. Instead, you wonder why the game wasn’t called ‘Batmobile: Arkham Knight’.
Perhaps the over-use of the Batmobile is emphasised by how joyful it is to control Batman himself. He soars across the expanse of Gotham, swings and ducks between buildings, before leaping down into the Batmobile to blast off into the distance. Batman’s movement has hugely improved since Arkham City, bringing the tight control of Arkham Asylum successfully to the huge environment. Grappling and moving, slipping into buildings and smashing through windows, just using the Bat is a lot of fun.
Not only is getting around Gotham quicker as Batman than in the Batmobile, it is far more enjoyable. Arkham Knight is the game Arkham City wanted to be. Growling and dominating Gotham, the arch-psychopath in a city brimming with them, this is as close as gaming has come to making you the Batman.
Following a hallucinogenic gas attack by Scarecrow on an inner-city diner, and with warnings of worse to follow, Gotham is evacuated of all civilians, leaving the Police, fire-services, a co-operative of major criminals, and Batman himself. Another participant soon emerges – the Arkham Knight. The real kingpin of the Gotham evacuation, he is hell-bent on the destruction of Batman.
Created by DC and Rocksteady especially for the game, Arkham Knight is a distressingly boring, hackneyed villain devoid of any personality or menace. The Joker he is not. Unfortunately, this could be said for a lot of the narrative, which, one brilliant addition early into the game aside, is on the whole pretty dull.
The character animations and much of the directing during these scenes is undeniably excellent, but the narrative holds little interest beyond ensuring the player flips from scenario to scenario. Although this could be considered backwards for a series that began with such a twisted narrative focus, it does at least offer a central spine from which the game’s other nuances can attach themselves to.
As with Arkham City, Arkham Knight offers a plethora of activities for those who wish to extend their time with the game. There is plenty of incentive to indulge oneself; ability tokens can be gained through XP points, but completing stages of a side-quest immediately grants tokens. It is therefore quicker to improve Batman’s abilities through finishing tasks rather than general gameplay.
These incentives are a fine idea, and successfully convince the player to pursue tasks as the rewards are worth the effort. That is not to say that all the tasks are interesting; most fall into find/search/save tropes, but they at least offer the chance for Rocksteady to utilise the DC canon. A highly entertaining murder investigation is the highlight, while the Riddler challenges are great for completionists.
Batman, the walking swiss-army knife that he is, has plenty of combat options when he faces the masses swarmed against him. His move-set has increased considerably, and while there are still elements of ‘staged arena, inexplicable gargoyles’ to some of the combat, the scenarios are now more flexible. From street-fights against gangs of thugs to tense, confined chess-matches against armed commandoes, each requires a different strategy to emerge victorious.
Be under no doubt – Batman is far stronger than anyone he faces – but the power of guns, and the Arkham Knight’s specialist squads, serve to level the playing field a little. ‘Fear’ takedowns are a great addition; if caught unaware, Batman can takedown three opponents in very quick succession, offering a brutal, effective way to clear a room. Hand-to-hand combat is fun, crunching, and rhythmic.
Although the game is at pains to remind us that Batman refuses to kill, the brutality with which he dispenses his opponents suggests that many may wish to be dead such are their injuries. The level of barbarity, compared to this ethos, is almost comical.
Arkham Knight, despite its narrative and design weaknesses, is exceptionally well produced. Not only does it look absolutely stunning, but the design motifs are also impeccable. The city is filthy, cluttered by gothic architecture and swamped in never-ending rain; it looks miserable and stunning at the same time. One can understand why a thug questioned the logic, or need, to save such a metropolis.
Characters are also fantastically animated, suitably subdued and unruly. Batman broods and snarls, most of his interactions conducted via an intercom, which in itself is superbly realised. Everything is very sharp and stylish, from combat to movement to interface. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into the production, and the result is impeccable.
Arkham Knight is very close to being brilliant. Like its predecessors, it gets so much right; outstanding production values, superb combat, stunning graphics, and engrossing gameplay. Unfortunately, it is let down by a narrative lacking impetus and tension, a lack of focus, and an over-reliance on the impact of the Batmobile.
That said, it is a game worthy of attention and play-through; few will be disappointed. Yet many will also feel that it isn’t quite the game it could have been. This is not only testament to the continued quality of the series, but the high expectations that come with such achievement. Arkham Knight is a very, very good game. With a bit more thought to its narrative design and pacing it would have been a classic.
This review is based on a retail copy of Batman: Arkham Knight for the PS4